Blame game for Canadian officials as U.S. edges toward NAFTA pullout

Canadian leaders are starting to point fingers over who is to blame for the possibility that the U.S. will pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

On Friday, the top opposition leader in the Canadian parliament, Conservative Party head Andrew Scheer, accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of bungling the negotiations by not taking President Trump’s threats to pull out of the trade deal seriously until recently.

“Here at home, we will be holding this Liberal government to account as to whether or not they’ve been taking this as seriously as they should have been as early as they should have been,” said Scheer, in a speech Friday to the Mississauga, Ontario, Board of Trade. “Justin Trudeau doesn’t seem to have a plan.”

The sixth round of NAFTA renegotiations are scheduled to begin Jan. 23 in Montreal.

Canadian leaders fear that the talks to renegotiate the 1993 trade deal will collapse, telling Reuters on Wednesday that they believe the Trump administration will respond by announcing that the U.S. will exit the deal. The concerns have spooked Canada, which saw its dollar drop following the news.

Trudeau offered a more optimistic take during a London, Ontario, press conference Friday, but conceded that his administration was bracing for the worst. “People know that we remain positive and hopeful, but we know that [the Trump] administration can be somewhat unpredictable… We have contingency plans.”

Trump reiterated that the U.S. would pull out of NAFTA if negotiators don’t get the deal they want in an interview published Friday by the Wall Street Journal. He further muddied the waters by tying the outcome of the talks to getting Mexico, the third NAFTA member, to pay for his long-sought border wall. Mexican Economic Minister Ildefonso Guajardo Villareal responded by tweeting, “The president of Mexico has been very clear: Mexico will never pay for that wall.”

The tension was somewhat lessened when Canada and the U.S. both endorsed extending the NAFTA talks into the summer, which would give them more time to work out a deal.

On Wednesday, Scheer said he would lead a delegation to the U.S. next week in an effort to present a “united Canadian front” against American protectionism.

This post originally appeared on Washington Examiner

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